The Loudoun Community Health Center will reopen Tuesday at a new location, in a building funded by an $8.7 million federal stimulus grant. The center, at 163 Fort Evans Rd. NE in Leesburg, is also getting a new name — HealthWorks for Northern Virginia — as it expands beyond Loudoun’s borders.
The community health center opened in 2007 to provide access to health care for the uninsured and the needy in Loudoun. Debra Dever, the center’s chief executive, said the center began with a staff of five: Dever, a physician, a nurse, a front desk receptionist and someone to assist with accounting. There are now 88 paid employees.
The Washington Post recently sat down with Dever to discuss the upcoming move and the new services the center will offer.
What is the mission of the community health center?
To provide access to health care for uninsured and low-income patients in our community and also to try to eliminate the disparities in health care that might exist. We want to provide comprehensive primary and preventative health care in a medical home setting.
Regardless if you’re homeless or a millionaire, when you walk into our facility and receive our care, you’re treated with respect and dignity and get the same level of quality. Everyone deserves the same respect and dignity and quality of care.
How is the community health center different from the free clinic? The primary difference is that a free clinic is free to their patients. They do not serve anyone with any type of insurance, so we try to target Medicaid and Medicare patients, primarily because physicians in private practice . . . aren’t reimbursed enough to really make it worth their while. So there’s a need there.
The other major difference is that free clinics tend to work with a volunteer staff. In our case, almost all of our employees are paid staff, although we really love volunteers and use volunteers.
Our patients pay on a sliding fee scale, so it’s discounted based on their income and household size. Our philosophy is that a person who contributes to their care, even if it’s a small amount . . . the research has shown that they tend to be more compliant and engaged in their health if they’re paying for some of that. We will not turn away anyone who cannot pay, so we do provide some free care. But to the extent that the patient can contribute to the care, we ask them to do so. (The health center also serves people of all ages. Loudoun’s free clinic does not accept patients younger than 18 or older than 65.)
How has the demand for your services grown over the years?
Within six months after we opened, we knew that we did not have enough space in our current Leesburg site. We expanded our hours, created a Saturday clinic, recruited more providers, but we only had [a few] exam rooms, and even if I could have recruited more physicians, we had no place to put them in the current site.
We saw a little more than 1,000 patients that first year. We’ve now seen more than 12,000 patients since we opened. We have 6,000 active patients right now, and we may hit 7,000 at the end of this year.
Despite its relative wealth, Loudoun County has a growing poverty rate. Are you seeing the effects of that?
Absolutely. Some of our families had dual incomes — both husband and wife combined were making well over $100,000 a year — and one or both of them lost their jobs, lost their insurance. It’s surprising how many uninsured, low-income patients we see. It’s growing very quickly, as is the population of Loudoun County. The growth in the last 10 years is phenomenal in Loudoun County, and I don’t know if the services have kept up, in terms of the safety net providers helping those patients who [have] lower incomes.
What services will you provide in the new facility that you couldn’t offer before?
In our new building, we’ll significantly expand the capacity on the medical side. We will offer brand-new dental service. We will expand our mental health and include substance abuse counseling as part of that mission. We will have an in-house pharmacy, which we currently don’t have. We will have a lab. Although we’ve provided lab service, that will be expanded. And [another] brand new service is optometry.
We’re also going to do a significant wellness program. We didn’t have space to do a lot of education and patient community planning — for example, a child obesity prevention program, nutrition services and education, diabetic education. We have a physician who’s going to do a comprehensive community wellness program of activities and education, because we have the space to do that now.
What direction do you see the center taking in the future?
The focus is, how can we partner and collaborate? We don’t want to duplicate what’s already happening. How can we maximize the resources to serve those who may be underserved in this community, and how do we do it together? One really good example is that we’ll have the [county’s Women, Infants and Children nutrition] program housed within our building, and there’s no charge or rent, so that will be a collaborative opportunity.
We really want . . . [to] maximize what’s out there. So we invite the community to come and see how can we work together to meet the needs in this community.
For information, go to http://loudounchc.org.